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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Border Patrol has continued to leave migrants at bus stations amid ongoing flight cancellations

Asylum seekers from Peru and Ecuador wait in the San Diego International Airport after being dropped off by federal officials at a transit center in El Cajon with nowhere to go on Friday in San Diego. More than 75 migrants seeking asylum were left at the El Cajon Transit Center.  (Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
By Kate Morrissey San Diego</p><p>Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO – The mass flight cancellations that have disrupted travel plans for many around the United States are continuing to complicate the situation in San Diego for arriving asylum seekers and the people who work to support them.

Over the long holiday weekend, Border Patrol left hundreds of migrants at bus stops around San Diego County without any support to reach their final destinations around the country.

Normally, migrants stay no more than a few days in the care of local shelters before traveling on to their loved ones across the United States. But with winter weather and holiday travel – along with the collapse of Southwest Airlines’ flight schedule – shelters haven’t been able to move migrants onward as quickly as usual, meaning there is less capacity to receive new arrivals.

When the shelters do not have enough space, they triage based on vulnerability, prioritizing families with children, among others.

The federal government has opted to have Border Patrol drop off the remaining people at bus stations around the county.

“CBP works diligently to ensure that releases are conducted in a safe manner and that all noncitizens released from custody are provided essential support upon release and may access transportation to continue to their destinations,” an unnamed Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told the Union-Tribune. “All individuals released from CBP to continue their immigration process are screened for national security and public safety concerns.”

It is unclear how many people have been left at bus stations since the drop offs began on Friday. Local CBP officials deferred to the Department of Homeland Security headquarters when asked for a count, and DHS did not respond.

The county of San Diego, through conversations with the federal government, estimated that roughly 880 people were left at bus stations by Border Patrol from Friday through Monday. The county emphasized that the situation is constantly changing, so some who were initially going to be sent to bus stations might have ended up with shelters or vice versa, making it hard to know how accurate the estimate is.

“We are lobbying the federal government to direct more resources to our partners; and we are evaluating areas where we could assist if necessary,” said Michael Workman, spokesperson for the county government.

The Union-Tribune could not confirm whether any drop offs occurred on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The San Diego Rapid Response Network Migrant Shelter said on Tuesday that it is receiving up to 300 asylum seekers daily.

Kate Clark, an attorney with Jewish Family Service who helps manage the network’s shelter, said on Wednesday that the shelter did not plan to have to triage whom they would take that day, but staff are still monitoring the situation closely.

“At this moment we are grateful to have regained some capacity,” Clark said. “We know the ongoing national travel challenges persist and will be continually assessing capacity to welcome guests into our care post-release from the Department of Homeland Security.”

Along with several others who make up the steering committee for the shelter, Clark called on all levels of government to do more to create infrastructure to receive new arrivals.

“We call on the federal government to prioritize rebuilding our country’s broken asylum and immigration systems, including improved processes for migrant shelter services across the border region,” the steering committee said Tuesday. “All levels of government must work together to welcome and meet the needs of all asylum seekers arriving in San Diego.”

The lack of reception for people arriving at the bus stations can mean that the migrants have no place to sleep or money to buy food.

After arriving there, some have struggled to find working phones to get in touch with loved ones and make travel plans. Others managed to make their way to the airport only to find out that there are no flights available.

Among the people left at bus stations were some who have been separated from family members who crossed the border with them.

One man from Ecuador who was left at a bus station on Friday was separated from his pregnant wife. The San Diego Rapid Response Network decided to help the man after the Union-Tribune contacted the shelter to inquire if the wife was in their care.

She ended up at a different shelter in Riverside County after being processed by Border Patrol, but the network shelter helped the two reunite on Christmas Eve.

The Union-Tribune is not identifying them or other asylum seekers in this story due to their vulnerable situation.

A man from Peru contacted the Union-Tribune on Christmas Eve, the day after he was dropped off at a bus station in Oceanside. He had crossed the border with his mother, whom he described as having medical concerns. They’d been separated, and her phone was still turned off. He didn’t know how to find her.

He asked if there was some kind of page where family members can reunite, but without support from shelter staff, it can be difficult for family members to locate each other.

A short while later, he heard from her – she’d been sent to a long-term immigration detention center in Eloy, Ariz. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions about why his mother was detained.

It is not clear how many more families might be in similar situations.